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More Indian Techies in South Korea

Monday, March 1st, 2010

During his recent visit to India, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in an interview with the Times of India, an English-language daily, that it would be great to see more Indian software professionals working in the manufacturing sector in South Korea. He also wished to promote increased collaboration in the area of mobile-WiMAX, the latest in wireless broadband Internet technology.

Cooperation between India and South Korea is not a new concept. Both countries share a common history of oppression, as both were under foreign colonial rule for a long time. Although miles apart, South Korea and India have had trade relations from time immemorial. Both countries have royal marital ties too, as it is widely believed that an Indian princess from Gaya, India, traveled to Korea in search of her dream prince long ago.

President Lee quoted Rabindranath Tagore who referred to South Korea as the “Lamp of the East.” This was much appreciated by the Koreans who were struggling under Japanese rule. This inter-country relationship has been active since 1970 with workers moving between India and South Korea. At present, there are about 9,000 Koreans working in India and 7,000 Indians living and working in South Korea.

The synergy between the two countries is unmistakable. The South Korean workforce excels in IT hardware manufacturing while the Indians have expertise in the IT services sector. The software companies of both countries will help build the IT infrastructure in India and South Korea.

Already, South Korea is involved in setting up the POSCO steel plant in Orissa, being experts in steel, oil and gas plant technology. India will benefit a lot from such endeavors. The collaboration between the two countries began with huge investments made by South Korea in the consumer electronics category and automobile business almost two decades ago. By operating manufacturing facilities in India, South Korea hopes to achieve more growth in terms of presence and revenues from the Indian market.

Exchange of Experts and Technical Skill

The visit of the South Korean president as the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day celebrations speaks for itself and shows the enhanced relationship between two friendly nations. The heads of both countries spoke at length regarding bilateral, regional and global issues including improving economic ties and cooperation in civilian nuclear cooperation and space technologies.

Following the president’s visit many agreements are expected to be drawn in the areas of IT and the peaceful use of space technologies. The agreement on IT will leverage the IT software capabilities of India and IT hardware capabilities of South Korea, resulting in an increased flow of IT professionals between the two countries. The flow of Indian techies to South Korea and vice versa is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2004, the then Union Minister of IT and Communication Dayanithi Maran and the Korean Minister of Information and Communications Chin Dae-je signed cooperation agreements in the IT field. The flow of investments and expertise from Korea to India in the hardware sector and from India to Korea in the software sector were agreed upon.

The joint statement made by the ministries said that the focus will be on the development of technology and human resources in the software sector and the next-generation ICT industry, such as 4G and next-generation mobile communications and research networks. The scope of the agreement also included sectors like broadband infrastructure, e-government, digital signature and Cyber Emergency Response Team (CERT ).

“India has one of the largest skill bases in software technologies. South Korea has some of the most competitive industries like electronics, hardware and telecom. These industries require sophisticated software, strong R&D infrastructure, digital products and solutions. These are the areas where the two nations can cooperate, which can lead to a win-win situation,” said an expert in this field.

It is a known fact that Indian software professionals power most ventures out of Silicon Valley in the United States. The English speaking, hardworking, tech-savvy and economical Indians are much in demand in the developed and developing world. With borders merging and the world converging under rapid globalization, the coming together of countries in the fields of trade and technology is a foregone conclusion. It is not surprising that Indian techies are making their mark in South Korea as well.

Boosting People-to-People Relations

India is striving to make a broad pact with major Asian countries like Japan, China, South Korea and the ASEAN nations to boost economic ties in this region to create regional cooperation similar to that seen in the European Union. The underlying strategy is to form an Asian Economic Community. Discussions are afoot between the leaders of the concerned nations to make this a reality. This is expected to further induce more Indian software professionals to move to South Korea and other countries within the alliance.

The large presence of Indians in South Korea has not gone unnoticed even by the movie industry in India. Korea has been chosen to host a large Indian film festival this year. Andre Timmins, an organizing committee member for the international Indian Film Academy Awards, said during the Korea Night Event that Seoul will host the annual IIFA Awards in June 2010.

Euh Yoon-dae, former Korea University president is driving Korea’s efforts to boost its international image through the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. The Indian IIFA Awards’ function is recognized as a grand festival akin to the Academy Awards in the United States. It is expected to bring scores of Indian actors, actresses and filmmakers to Korea. This will add color to Indians living in South Korea and will be indicative of the greater cooperation between the two nations. This will enhance the comfort zone for professionals working on foreign soil.

More good news comes in the form of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA ), which includes goods, investment and services that became functional with the dawn of the new year. Greater collaboration will be possible between South Korea and India.

Indian professionals will benefit from the market-opening trade pact with South Korea, a net importer of Indian services. Also, India can scale down the trade imbalance with Korea, according to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI ) research study. It was also revealed that India will have huge opportunities to become a leading supplier of services to the Korean market. Korea looks towards India to nurture its software services market more than anything else.

Even in 2003, the Korean government was keen on tapping Indian skills in software to derive mutual benefits. South Korean companies arrived on Indian shores, taking over the consumer durables market by storm. Be it televisions, washing machines, microwave ovens, music systems or refrigerators, Korean names like Samsung and LG have become popular. As for cars, Hyundai is next only to Maruti cars on Indian roads. The country’s presence can also be felt in the construction sector. In return, Indian techies migrated to Korea to feed the software industry there.

The Future of Indo-Korean Relations

The Korean president’s visit to India in January 2010 led to the signing of a science and technology program agreement between the two nations. The arrangement signed by the science ministers of the two countries will enable joint efforts in developing chemicals, materials engineering, water resources, environment and IT engineering spheres. This will facilitate the movement of professionals and their families.

The recent announcement by the government in Seoul spelled out plans for the expansion of economic ties in the IT and software sectors to build the global competitiveness of both countries. The Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy said that Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics were excelling in the global IT field and high-speed Internet infrastructure sector.

India, for its part, has a strong software presence in the world with global giants like Wipro and Infosys making a mark in the IT sector. Indian software professionals were praised by the Korean officials owing to their research and development expertise in embedded software.

According to South Korean officials in the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, Seoul’s strength in IT - related hardware and New Delhi’s software expertise transferred to Korean soil will be the driving force for future growth in both countries. Greater cooperation between the two countries in various other fields like textiles, small business, iron and steel, oil and petrochemicals is also set to take off thanks to the IT revolution and the increased sense of trust between these two nations.

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